Book Review: A Hunger for God (Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer) [Piper]

As you read this review there are a thousand things vying for your attention; begging to become the center of your focus. Even more than that, there are countless other things warring to become the center of your affections and to consume your desires. With more choices to be made and more distractions than ever before, it is more important than ever for us to fix our eyes on God. Yet even as we do that there is a danger of striving after the things God provides rather than after God Himself.

The book provides this enticing quote from J.I. Packer:

   When Christians meet, they talk to each other about their Christian work and Christian interests, their Christian acquaintances, the state of the churches, and the problems of theology — but rarely of their daily experience of God.

Modern Christian books and magazines contain much about Christian doctrine, Christian standards, problems of Christian conduct, techniques of Christian service–but little about the inner realities of fellowship with God.

Our sermons contain much sound doctrine–but little relating to the converse between the soul and the Saviour.

We do not spend much time, alone or together, in dwelling on the wonder of the fact that God and sinners have communion at all; no, we just take that for granted, and give our minds to other matters.

Thus we make it plain that communion with God is a small thing to us.

A Hunger for God has a calming sort of impact on me. In a culture where everything is shouting for your attention this book has helped me slow down and focus my affection and attention on God Himself, and let everything else flow from that. Admittedly I fall short of this far too often, but that is why having this book as a resource has been such a blessing to me.

Piper shows us that “apart from dependence on and desperation for God, we will not only miss the ultimate point of our mission, but we will also neglect the ultimate need of our souls” (p.10); and that (in regards to fasting) “‘More than our stomachs want food, our souls want (God).’ Once we ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Psa 34:8), the things of the world no longer appeal to us in the same way” (p.11).

This is not a book filled with legalistic steps to fast and pray, but rather a book seeking to rekindle the daily (vital) experience of communing with God Himself. As David Platt puts it in the Introduction, “this book is more about our hearts than about our stomachs.”

Take a moment to pick this book up and walk through it in stillness. You will be greatly treated.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes by the Crossway Publishing. I was not required to post a positive review and the views expressed in this review are my own.

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The Love of Christ

I know people who have said: ‘I would follow Christ, but I do not think I can keep it up. I do not trust myself. I think he’d get tired of my failures.’ Please look at him in the garden. Look what his love for you has already enabled him to endure for you. If he had turned away from suffering and the cross, we would have been lost, but he didn’t do that. Hell came down on him, and he would not let go of us. His love for us has already taken everything that the universe could throw at it and it held fast— and you think that you are somehow going to upset him? Is Jesus going to look at you and say, ‘Well, that does it! Infinite existential torment was one thing, but I can only take so much!’? If this suffering did not make him give up on us, nothing will. So Paul can essentially say, ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ’ (Romans 8: 38– 39). The Lord says, ‘I will never leave you; never will I forsake you’ (Hebrews 13:5).

This is the love you have been looking for all of your life. This is the only love that can’t let you down. This is bombproof love. Not friend-love, not personal acclaim, not married love, and not even romantic love – it is this love that you are after, underneath all your pursuit of those others. And if this love of active obedience is an active reality in your life, you will be a person of integrity; you will be a person of prayer; you will be kind to people who mistreat you. If you have this love you will be a little more like him. Look at him dying in the dark for you. Let it melt you into his likeness.

~ Tim Keller (from The Obedient Master)

A Hunger for God: Desiring God Through Fasting and Prayer

As we look out at the church today, there is so much that encourages us and fills us with gratitude. There is renewed zeal among God’s people for the spread of God’s glory across the earth. Like never before we hear brothers and sisters in different circles and different streams of contemporary Christianity talking about the gospel and mission, about transforming cities and reaching unreached people groups. These conversations are essential, and we hope they will continue with even greater intensity and intentionality in the days ahead.

But sometimes what we are not hearing can be as illuminating as what we do hear. It reminds us of an exchange in an old Sherlock Holmes mystery, where Holmes refers to “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time” during a robbery. A fellow detective, confused at Holmes’s comment, responds that “the dog did nothing in the nighttime” — to which Holmes responds: “That was the curious incident.” Despite the proliferation of Christian publishing and Christian conferences, J. I. Packer’s observation of our own curious incident still rings true:

When Christians meet, they talk to each other about their Christian work and Christian interests, their Christian acquaintances, the state of the churches, and the problems of theology — but rarely of their daily experience of God.

Modern Christian books and magazines contain much about Christian doctrine, Christian standards, problems of Christian conduct, techniques of Christian service — but little about the inner realities of fellowship with God.

Our sermons contain much sound doctrine — but little relating to the converse between the soul and the Saviour.

We do not spend much time, alone or together, in dwelling on the wonder of the fact that God and sinners have communion at all; no, we just take that for granted, and give our minds to other matters.

Thus we make it plain that communion with God is a small thing to us.

Think about it. Where are the passionate conversations today about communing with God through fasting and prayer? We seem to find it easier to talk much of plans and principles for proclaiming the gospel and planting churches, and to talk little of the power of God that is necessary for this gospel to be proclaimed and the church to be planted.

If we really want to be a part of seeing disciples made and churches multiplied throughout North America and to the ends of the earth, we would be wise to begin on our knees.

It is for this reason that we gladly commend the new edition of John Piper’s Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer. If you have read or heard anything from Piper, you know that he is rightly and biblically passionate about the spread of God’s glory. But at the same time, he is acutely and biblically aware of our need for God’s grace. He knows that apart from dependence on and desperation for God, we will not only miss the ultimate point of our mission, but we will also neglect the ultimate need of our souls.

We were made to feast on God. In the words of the psalmist, we were created to cry:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food. (Psalm 63:1–5)

We have read the sad statistics about the number of young people who turn away from the church once they are out of their parents’ home. We have heard people explain that they have “tried God” when they were young but that it didn’t work for them. But we have to wonder: did they “earnestly” seek him with their whole hearts? Did they cry out to him in fasting and prayer? Sometimes we “earnestly seek” after things from God rather than God himself. It is hard for us to imagine anyone leaving the presence of the living God — the maker and sustainer of heaven and earth — and looking for something better!

There is spiritual delight to be found in God that far supersedes the physical diet of this world, and fasting is the means by which we say to God, “More than our stomachs want food, our souls want you.” Once we “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8), the things of the world no longer appeal to us in the same way.

As Piper says in the opening pages of this book, “Beware of books on fasting.” This is not a book of legalism. It’s not a book of technique. It does not contain a twelve-step plan. At the end of the day, it’s a book more about our hearts than about our stomachs. Abstaining from food (or other things) for a period of time is not an end in itself but a means to cause us to learn about and increase our love for Christ. As Piper explains in this book, the Bible gives us many reasons to fast:

  • We fast because we’re hungry for God’s Word and God’s Spirit in our lives.
  • We fast because we long for God’s glory to resound in the church and God’s praise to resound among the nations.
  • We fast because we yearn for God’s Son to return and God’s kingdom to come.
  • Ultimately we fast simply because we want God more than we want anything this world has to offer us.

Few things are as frustrating as trying to convince our loved ones of the greatness and grandeur of God. We are jealous for our neighbors and our faith family and the nations to find satisfaction in God alone. As we recently reread the book you hold in your hands, we have tried to imagine what it would be like if our churches were filled with believers fasting regularly and biblically. What might God be pleased to do if his church rises up to say, “This much, O God, we want you!”? We encourage you to read this book, asking great things from God, “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think!” (Ephesians 3:20).


For a free pdf of the book, as well as options to purchase paperback or Kindle versions, see Desiring God’s updated resource page for a Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer.

This post is transcribed from DesiringGod.org with permission

God Owes Me Nothing (But Gives Me Everything!)

Lately I’ve been feeling pretty beaten down. I’ve had what is probably the worst 11 month stretch I’ve ever had to go through. It’s tested me, stretched me, and brought me to the end of myself time and time again. I think the hardest thing about it was that there was seemingly no end.

I’m still in the midst of quite a few of these difficulties (job situation, no car, financial strain), but I finally feel–for the first time in a long time–that I’m turning a corner. I’ve been coming to realize that my frustration stemmed from my belief that God owes me something. I mean, I’m going to church, leading in the capacities I am able, leading a small group, reading my Bible.. that must warrant some sort of special grace to me, right??

Not so much.

In reading through John Piper’s Daily Devotional, today’s content really resonated in a special way with me. For the first time in quite a while I’ve been able to see that God owe’s me nothing, and that’s been incredibly freeing. I’ve been able to come to terms with the spiritual state of my soul and where I would be without Christ’s (perfect! willing!!) intervention.

In short, this changes everything.

I’ll let Piper do the rest of the topic with this framework in mind.

—————

 

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

A vague, bad feeling that you are a crummy person is not the same as conviction for sin. Feeling rotten is not the same as repentance.

This morning I began to pray, and felt unworthy to be talking to the Creator of the universe. It was a vague sense of unworthiness. So I told him so. Now what?

Nothing changed until I began to get specific about my sins. Crummy feelings can be useful if they lead to conviction for sins. Vague feelings of being a bad person are not very helpful.

The fog of unworthiness needs to take shape into clear dark pillars of disobedience. Then you can point to them and repent and ask for forgiveness and take aim to blow them up.

So I began to call to mind the commands I frequently break. These are the ones that came to mind.

  • Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Not 95%, but 100%. (Matthew 22:37)
  • Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Be as eager for things to go well for him as you are for things to go well for you. (Matthew 22:39)
  • Do all things without grumbling. No grumbling—inside or outside. (Philippians 2:14)
  • Cast all your anxieties on him—so you are not being weighed down by it anymore. (1 Peter 5:7)
  • Only say things that give grace to others—especially those closest to you. (Ephesians 4:29)
  • Redeem the time. Don’t fritter or dawdle. (Ephesians 5:16)

So much for any pretensions to great holiness! I’m undone.

But now it is specific. I look it in the eye. I’m not whining about feeling crummy. I’m apologizing to Christ for not keeping all that he commanded.

I’m broken and I’m angry at my sin. I want to kill it, not me. I’m not suicidal. I’m a sin hater and a sin murderer. (“Put to death what is earthly in you” Colossians 3:5. “Put to death the deeds of the body” Romans 8:13.)

In this conflict, I hear the promise, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Peace rises.

Prayer feels possible and right and powerful again.

How I Approach God When Feeling Rotten

Jesus, Risks, and the Hobbit

[[WHILE THIS POST IS A COMPILATION OF IDEAS, IT IS A LITTLE SCATTERED AT TIMES. PERHAPS I WILL COMPILE AND BETTER ORGANIZE MY THOUGHTS IN THE NEAR-FUTURE, BUT FOR THE TIME BEING I JUST NEED TO GET THE CONTENT onto paper AND I PRAY THAT IT IS COHESIVE ENOUGH TO GET MY POINT ACROSS.]]

 

As I was watching The Hobbit tonight, I had a few key things come to mind (don’t worry, I won’t give any spoilers).

I think it’s pretty clear that we all love epic tales. We love stories of mass adventures and journeys into the unknown. Lord of the Rings, Narnia, the Bourne movies, the list goes on and on.

I started to think about why that is, and at the end of the day, I think it’s because we all want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.

We flock to theatres, buy novels, plaster our walls (both physically and electronically) with posters and visual content, and much more to express our interaction with these themes; but for me, this exposed in me (and surely in others) a dangerous reality.

We long for the interaction and involvement in grander themes, something “bigger” than us, having a greater purpose, and yet we leave it to the movies we watch, the pages we turn, and the stories we read. We long to play a part and yet settle for living vicariously through a character while we are a passive observer.

Why?

I think it’s because we know that it will cost us.

We know that with these sorts of involvement, there is risk. We want the benefits without the costs, we want the enjoyment of being significant without the dangers of being disliked by some.

Allow me to hone in on this a little bit. I do not want this to be some generic, conceptual argument with vague intentions which significant, tangible realities are swirling around this.

There is a higher calling for our lives than observing adventures happen on a television screen. Jesus calls us to follow Him. We are being called upon to be agents of reconciliation and proclaim His Gospel to the world (2 Cor 5:18-19). We are being called to advance His Kingdom and live in such a way that the world will see that we value something more than anything else this world can offer us.

We are being called by God to make much of HIM, not ourselves.

The truth is.. it will cost us, but His promise is sure.

Jesus says we may lose everything (see the book of Job), but He is enough.

The Bible says that you may be rejected by men (John 15:18), but He alone will sustain you and never leave you (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Without fragmenting this too much, I look at how I’m living and look at the scriptures and see a great imbalance. I read stories in the Bible and desire the interactions and communing with God that these men and women had, and yet I often seek to do as little as possible to receive it. Perhaps it’s my Westernized, American mentality or perhaps we’ve just used that as an excuse for far too long. All I know it that there’s an imbalance, and I don’t wish for it to be a defining factor for me any more.

At the end of the day, we must risk. We must venture into the unknown, but in doing so, we can hold firm to the fact that our God will remain with us, and that He is ever-victorious; that either in our life or our death, He will be made much of and magnified.

Joel Houston (lead singer of Hillsong United) says, “all too often we look at injustice and say to ourselves ‘that’s not right; that’s not fair’ and then chance the channel or get on with supper.”

We identify with it, but that’s often times all we do, because for us to ever do something about it will actually cost us something.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be the generation that can hold doctrinally-sound beliefs and do absolutely nothing about it other than debate people.

I desire to be a part of a generation that acts on those beliefs. A generation that lives them out. I want us as Christians to be known for our intentionality and urgency in what we believe–while being characterized by love. I want to live in such a way that even if my friends don’t believe the same things I do, they know I believe it, and it shapes the way I live.

Are we believing in God to move in impossible situations? Are we even asking Him to? Or are we writing Him off before we even give Him the chance to do something?

The Bible says that God is able to do abundantly more than we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20), and so even the most far-fetched, impossible-seeming, most ridiculous aspiration you have in reaching someone or doing something for the sake of the Gospel, God can do even more.

God desires to make His name great and for our lives to be consumed with bringing Him glory. May we stop settling for adventures and epic tales on a movie screen when we have one laying right in front of us.

May we live with a Gospel urgency and intentionality, knowing that not just what we think about Jesus, but how we live for (and proclaim!) Him is necessary in making Him known in our specific contexts.

May we live out this Gospel, depend on Jesus, and love God passionately as we seek for His Kingdom to advance.

Praying for this.

Praying for Your Straying Soul

Do you pray for your straying soul?

I do. Daily.

The soul is always in motion. If you think yours is motionless, you are probably floating downstream.

Daily the soul is lured to other treasures, other satisfactions, other rewards besides Jesus and his way. Jesus taught us to pray daily, “forgive us for these wanderings and lead us not into, but out of, them.”

So, how do you pray for your straying soul if you believe in God’s sovereign will to bring back his wayward ones? For many years I have taken my cue from Jeremiah 31:18.

You have disciplined me, and I was disciplined, like an untrained calf; cause me to return and I will return, for you are the Lord, my God.

Similarly, Lamentations 5:21.

Cause us to return to yourself, O Lord, and we will return! Renew our days as of old.

These are my translations to make clear that the same Hebrew word is behind both verbs: “Cause me to return.” And “I will return.” The first one is the causal form of the verb, while the second one is the declarative form. If God causes me to return, I will return.

That is the way I believe. And that is the way I pray. I invite you to join me. This is how perseverance happens.

Originally Posted by John Piper here: http://ow.ly/dwWNG

Help, Lord

“Help, Lord.”—Psalm 12:1.

The prayer itself is remarkable, for it is short, but seasonable, sententious, and suggestive. David mourned the fewness of faithful men, and therefore lifted up his heart in supplication—when the creature failed, he flew to the Creator. He evidently felt his own weakness, or he would not have cried for help; but at the same time he intended honestly to exert himself for the cause of truth, for the word “help” is inapplicable where we ourselves do nothing. There is much of directness, clearness of perception, and distinctness of utterance in this petition of two words; much more, indeed, than in the long rambling outpourings of certain professors. The Psalmist runs straight-forward to his God, with a well-considered prayer; he knows what he is seeking, and where to seek it. Lord, teach us to pray in the same blessed manner.

The occasions for the use of this prayer are frequent. In providential afflictions how suitable it is for tried believers who find all helpers failing them. Students, in doctrinal difficulties, may often obtain aid by lifting up this cry of “Help, Lord,” to the Holy Spirit, the great Teacher. Spiritual warriors in inward conflicts may send to the throne for reinforcements, and this will be a model for their request. Workers in heavenly labour may thus obtain grace in time of need. Seeking sinners, in doubts and alarms, may offer up the same weighty supplication; in fact, in all these cases, times, and places, this will serve the turn of needy souls. “Help, Lord,” will suit us living and dying, suffering or labouring, rejoicing or sorrowing. In Him our help is found, let us not be slack to cry to Him.

The answer to the prayer is certain, if it be sincerely offered through Jesus. The Lord’s character assures us that He will not leave His people; His relationship as Father and Husband guarantee us His aid; His gift of Jesus is a pledge of every good thing; and His sure promise stands, “Fear not, I WILL HELP THEE.”

~ C.H. Spurgeon (From Morning and Evening, a daily devotional)